During his barn-burner of a speech Monday to more than 6,000 supporters on the campus of Youngstown State University, Barack Obama, thus far the leading contender for the Democratic nomination for president, dismissed critics who say he could not stand up to Republican John McCain in the general election with this: I may be skinny but I'm strong.
Obama, a U.S. senator from Illinois, talked about his political roots in Chicago, which, like Youngstown, has a reputaion for take-no-prisoners elections.
It was one of many poignant moments in Obama's appearance, which is why his decision not to debate his opponent, Hillary Clinton, in Youngstown is so puzzling. It suggests political cowardice, which certainly would not ingratiate him to long-tme Democrats in the Mahoning Valley who aren't impressed with stump speeches and television soundbites.
Obama, responding to a question following a tour of RMI Titanium in Niles before the YSU event, said he did not see a reason to debate Clinton in the Valley because they will be debating in Texas this week and in Cleveland on Feb, 26.
He explained that Clinton, a U.S. senator from New York state who is leading in the polls for the March 4 primary in Ohio, is better known in this area and that he needs to spend his time pressing the flesh.
But if the reaction from the crowd at YSU is any indication, Obama would benefit a lot more by showing that even in a region which gave Clinton's husband, Bill, huge margins of victory in his presidential bid and his re-election campaign, he has confidence of doing well.
It's unlikely he'll change his mind about the debate, but he missed a golden opportunity to establish his political credentials in this heavily Democratic area.